tv Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons CSPAN October 20, 2014 10:00pm-10:55pm EDT
this hearing of the subcommittee will resume. it would have been ten minutes except the senate train broke down. we had to walk over to the capitol and get back, so mr. deroche, please proceed. >> good afternoon, mr. chairman, ranking member cruz, members of the committee. thank you for revisiting this pressing issue. changing the culture in the prisons will change the culture in our cities and our states. the disproportionate and arbitrary use of solitary confinement is not only immoral, it is a missed opportunity to break the cycle of crime. this approach does not increase public safety and is contrary to justice fellowship's goals for the criminal justice system, accountability and restoration. teaching people to become good citizens rather than just good prisoners is a charge entrusted to the correctional officers by the taxpayers. skilled wardens understand ensuring prisoners become responsible and productive members of society at large is
paramount to the safety of our communities whether inside or outside of the prison walls. part of creating safe communities inside prisons includes removing prisoners, individuals who violate societal norms by placing themselves or others at rick. skilled wardens also need to understand that the removal process needs to be temporary and what is being asked of the prisoner should be available to them and achievable. many in this room know that justice fellowships founder chuck colson saw his power and pride crumble when he left being president nixon's counsel to becoming a federal prisoner. but upon his release from prison, his work actually started touring a solitary confinement unit in walla walla prison in 1979, and that -- out of that meeting, senators, is where justice fellow ship was founded. and i'm also grateful to you, mr. chairman and ranking member
cruz, for your support as has been mentioned of co-sponsoring the smarter sentencing act, and i believe that mr. collison if he were alive today would applaud your work in that area. solitary confinement, in theory is for the worst of the worst of the prisoners. however, data says otherwise. case in point is in illinois where a study was conducted and found that 85% of the prisoners were sent to disciplinary segregation for minor rule violations. prisoners in these circumstances too often do not have their cases individually reviewed and looked at from oversight. there was an analogy given earlier about police officers when they're struck or other things, but it seems that the justice system does a much greater job on the outside of the walls of having accountability and individual review than segregation has had historically. and when it comes to the
discussion about mental illness, regretfully our family, friends, and neighbors suffering from mental illness are too often punished rather than treated. and i would like to share the story of a man named kevin, a young man i have a privilege of knowing back in michigan who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 11 years old, and at 14 was pressured by a peer group to holding up a pizzeria with a toy gun. he wound up in an adult prison and was -- spent nearly a year in segregation. who described his experience as an ongoing panic attack, and felt as though he was stuck in an elevator that he needed to escape from, and he eventually tried to commit suicide as his escape, but instead of helping kevin, the prison guards at the time simply increased his punishment because that was all that they were trained and knowledgeable to do. too often our jails have become
our country's mental institutions, and i believe that supporting bills such as the community mental health collaborative mental health act that senator franken spoke of earlier will help provide resources to our states, law enforcement community, as well as to our state corrections officials when they're encountering and dealing with people that are suffering from mental health issues and mental illness. i would like to share some promising alternatives and strategies from justice fellowship's perspective of those that have reduced the use of segregation. that is first to use mission housing to target the need of prisoner was mental illness, developmental delays, and those at risk of sexual victimization. second, to use alternative responses to the disruptions outside of segregation. third is to increase the training for the prison staff on
methods that promote positive social behavior within the bureau of prisons. jurisdictions employing these strategies have not only reduced their use of segregation but have also tracked concurrent reduction in the use of force on prisoners and the number of prison grievances. i want to acknowledge the aca and other organizations have taken a very progressive stance on inviting in external and independent reviews as has the bureau of prisons and to this senate panel whether it's the internal revenue system or the department of justice, i believe that holding government accountable comes with no expiration date, and when the issues of human liberty and public safety are at stake, we must never give up the watch, and i would hope, senator, that this is not the end of the discussion today and that these can be continued, including the work with the newly authorized charles colson task force on prison reform. >> mr. deroche, thank you very
much. it's not the end. this is round two, and i don't know how many rounds there will be but i wanted to bring this issue up again and see if progress had been made, and i thank you for your participation. mr. levin, you're making me very nervous. we keep inviting you to these hearings and as a texas conservative i find myself agreeing with you more and more, so i'm hoping you'll at least highlight a few things that you know we disagree on, but thank you very much for coming and the floor is yours. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> turn the microphone on there. >> thank you, mr. chairman, for your leadership on this and i want to thank as well the ranking member who i have known and admired for many years, senator cruz. we are a conservative think tank but -- >> and i'll note on that you did find something you disagree with the chairman on. >> well, we are a conservative think tank but i will tell you that if we believe in making government less intrusive and personal responsibility and accountability, we have to shine the light in the darkest of places, and the most restrictive
areas of government control, which is solitary confinement. so i'm pleased to be here today. one of the issues that we feel strongly about is ending the practice of releasing inmates directly from solitary confinement. this is a major problem in texas with over 1,300 such releases directly from solitary confinement in 2011 from texas state prisons. in washington state a study was done on their super max unit that found inmates released directly from solitary confinement were 35% more likely to commit a new offense and even more likely than that to commit a new violent offense as compared to comparable inmates with similar risk and offense profiles who were not released directly from solitary confine am. i also want to point out the successes we've seen in states around the country. mississippi as noted earlier has gone down from 1300 inmates in seven in solitary confinement to today only 300. violence in mississippi prisons has dropped 70% since they made
those reductions and in maine, for example, they've gone from 139 in solitary confinement to between 35 and 45 today just in the last couple of years. and what i want to note is their corrections commissioner joseph ponte has noted the done sizing has led to a substantial reduction in violence, reductions in use of force in use of restraints, reductions in inmates cutting themselves up which used to happen every week. it's been almost totally eliminated. part of what they've done is reducing the duration of solitary confinement. those that used to go there for drugs, they may still go, but if they test clean for drugs, they can graduate out of solitary confinement. if somebody is september there for more than 72 hours, that decision is reviewed by the commissioner. one of the keys in texas to reducing our solitary confinement has been the gang renunciation and disassociation program. inmates can earn their way out by exemplary behavior and
renouncing their gang membership. using sanctions and incentives behind bars is a way to provide for incentives that lead inmates to behave better which, therefore, reduces the need for solitary confinement. one of the models is the parallel universe model used in arizona through their getting ready program. for example, inmates with exemplary behavior may have a longer curfew. those that misbehave may be denied certain privileges such as making phone calls and, for example, also access to the mail and other things except for their attorneys. and so this creates a positive incentive. by the same token we know through things -- that swift sanctions work. we have to make sure we're not overusing solitary confinement for long periods. one of the perhaps strongest incentives is, of course, earned time. and i will tell you we're very pleased that senator cornyn, senator whitehouse, and other members are supporting earned time legislation, particularly for nonviolent offenders in the
federal system. clearly by reducing the number of dead enders we can make sure folks have an incentive for good behavior in prison and also a study has shown 36% fewer new offenses for those released to parole as opposed to discharge without supervision. i want to go over a list of recommendations that we would urge you to do in addition to, of course, ending the release directly from solitary confinement. those include eliminating rules that deny any reading materials to those in solitary confinement, improving training in de-escalation techniques, training in mental retardation and mental illness. using that parallel universe model that creates incentive for positive behavior and self improvement. creating a matrix of intermediate sanctions. this wouldn't be for those who do serious bodily injury to a staff member or another inmate, but for those that commit minor mile violations, that they would have intermediate sanctions to get their attention and correct the behavior.
reducing the number of dead enders, the missioned housing which was mentioned earlier for those who are in protective custody, former police officers, those who are mentally ill, those in the process of leaving again. unfortunately those individuals often end up in the same 23 hour a day cell when we know these smaller housing communities with a better staff inmate ratio is address that issue. i will tell you if we can address the overcrowding, that helps immensely because when you have inmates piled in day rooms with inadequate staff ratio, that makes it more difficult to defuse the very tensions that often lead to placement in solitary confinement. so i want to thank the committee for their work on this and i truly believe we're on the path to solutions that will both increase our order in prisons and make the public safer when these inmates are discharged. >> thanks, mr. levin. thanks to the entire panel. a special thanks to miss kerman and mr. thibodeaux for coming and speaking openly about their
own experience in incarceration. mr. thibodeaux i have read your testimony three times it is that compelling. i ask you to sum advise it. >> thank you. thank you for inviting me to speak about my 15 years in solitary confinement on death row at the louisiana state penitentiary at angola. i'm here because in september of 2012 i became the 141st actually innocent death row exxonee since the u.s. supreme court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 but before he was exonerated and released i was subjected to solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for 15 years between the ages of 23 and 38. this experience was all the more painful and cruel because i had not committed the crime for which i had been sentenced to die. in my written statement i described the physical and mentaler to tour that inmates in solitary suffer. the diet is horrible, the heat and cold are often unbearable,
and human contact and access to health care are severely limited. as harmful as these conditions are, life in solitary is made all the worse because it's often a hopeless existence. humans cannot survive without food and water. they can't survive without sleep, but they also cannot survive without hope. years on end in solitary, particularly on death row, will drain that hope from anyone because in solitary there's nothing to live for. i know this because i lost my hope. after realizing what my existence would be like for years on end until i was either executed or exonerated. i was on the verge of committing what was basically suicide by state. by voluntarily giving up my legal rights and allowing the state to carry out the sentence of death. something that would have been done only a few weeks after signing the necessary paperwork. my lawyer, denise labeouf, talked me out of doing that by convincing me that i would be exonerated and released some
day. and that's why i was able to regain my hope and became willing to continue my legal fight. i was one of the fortunate on death row because i had denise and my other lawyers and supporters, but the state effectively kills most men in solitary years before it injects them with any lethal drugs. i can see no reason to subject anyone to this type of existence no matter how certain we are that they are guilty of a horrible crime and are among the worst of the worst. even if we want to punish them severely, we should refrain from this form of confinement and treatment only because it's the humane and moral thing for us to do. my religious faith teaches that we should be humane and caring for all people, saint and sinner alike. what does it say about us as a nation that even before the law allows the state to execute a person we're willing to let them kill it bit by bit and day by day by subjecting them to solitary confinement?
i do not condone what those who have killed and committed other serious offenses have done but i also don't condone what we do to them when we put them in solitary for years on end and treat them as sub human. we are better than that. as a civilized society we should be better than that. i would like to believe that the vast majority of the people in the united states would be appalled if they knew what we are doing to inmates in solitary confinement and understood that we are torturing them for reasons that have little, if anything, to do with protecting other inmates or prison guards from them. it's torture pure and simple no matter what else we want to call it. i would like to think that we can all agree that our constitution prohibits it. i thank the subcommittee for looking at the situation, educating the public about it, and am pleased to have any questions you may ask. >> mr. thibodeaux, in the opening statement i talked about the inmate that i met who said i
got an extra 50 years because i told them if they put somebody in this cell i'd kill them and i did. it was a stunning, cold-blooded statement. did you run into similar circumstances of other inmates who were that dangerous? >> there was -- there was one. he volunteered for execution, and that's why he dropped his appeals because he stated that if he ever got out, he would do it again. >> what is the right thing to do with that kind of person based on what you've seen in your -- i don't know how to describe it -- incredible life experience. >> well, i have also come in contact with individuals who are in prison rightfully, they're on death row, and they make no
attempt to profess their innocence. they just would prefer life as opposed to death. but someone who would make a statement like that to kill someone that's put in the cell with them, just leave them in the cell by themselves. you let them out at appropriate times. you don't just lock them in a hole and forget about them. you know, if i was to do that or you were to do that to someone in your home, you would go to prison for that. it's inhumane. >> thank you. miss kerman, i know that senator hirono and others may raise the question about incarcerated women, and you have lived that, and you know the vulnerabilities they have. i think about other categories, those who are being held for immigration offenses which are
technical violations. they're not crimes per se. i mean it's a violation of law, no question about it, but it isn't a question of a violent crime or anything like that and the vulnerability they would have because of language and culture and threat of deportation. what can you tell us about those women and what they face? >> women who have not been convicted of a crime and yet are held in confinement and potentially subjected to solitary confinement for any variety of reasons. that's a horrifying thought. too often solitary confinement is used not to control people who are truly dangerous to themselves or others but as a tool of control within an institution when other management tools of an institution, whether it be a detention center or whether it be a prison or a jail would be far more humane and likely more effective. >> was there any recourse at
danbury in terms of a person or office that you could contact as an inmate if you saw or felt you were being threatened by a guard for example? >> your best chance if you felt that you were under threat and in danger from either a staffer or frankly from another prisoner would be if you had contact with the outside world, and different prisoners have different degrees of contact with the outside world. frankly, a prisoner like myself who is middle class and has a lot of access, you know, money on my phone account and so on and so forth has a much better chance at gaining recourse if i was subjected to either sexual abuse or any other kind of abuse, but within a prison system, it is a very slippery slope to try to gain justice, and inmates have a very limited
trust of prison officials unless a prison is run in a way that is transparent and humane in the first place. so, you know, there's a medium security men's state prison i visited in ohio a number of times. it is run in a very, very different way than any prison i was ever held in. and the warden there is a really remarkable person. so different institutions are run in very different ways and it makes all the difference in terms of whether a prisoner who is being targeted for abuse, whether it is by staff or by another prisoner, feels comfortable seeking justice. >> mr. thibodeaux, how much contact did you have with the outside world in your 15-year experience? >> i had -- >> you need to turn -- >> i had five contact visit was my family in the 15 years i was there. >> how often were you able to meet with your attorney? >> whenever they got up to visit. i had a law firm from
minneapolis on my case as well. they probably saw me there three, maybe four times. >> in 15 years? >> in 15 years. but i was more concerned with the case work they were doing. if they wanted to come and visit me, fine. being in a cell like that, you kind of cherish the visits, you know, but i was more concerned with the progress that was being made in my case. >> mr. raemisch, there was a point in director samuels' testimony that kind of sturgeoned msturgeon -- stunned me. i thought what he said was 4% of the federal population in prison suffered from mental illness. i may be off on that number, but not too far off. i have heard numbers about people with mental illness challenges in prisons, state and otherwise, dramatically higher
than that. what is your impression about the question of mental illness and incarceration? >> i'm not sure -- i can't speak for him, and i believe the 4% was right that he said, but went through my mind was it's very possible he was talking about those that fall within the definition of major mentally ill which our number is about 4%, but our mental health needs that don't fall into that major category is 34%. so it's about a third of our population. i can tell you about 70% of our population has some type of drug and/or alcohol problem also to throw into the mix. >> and what we found in the first hearing was that many people with mea-- mentally challenged people found it difficult to follow the rules as well as they should have and any type of resistance on their part
because either they wanted to resist or they were mentally challenged was answered with segregation. >> let me give you the example i give when i speak publicly about it. if i was walking down the sidewalk past a bus stop and someone was mumbling fairly loudly to themselves like is often the case, we'd keep walking and understand that there was some type of mental health issue. typically in an institution that would probably get someone if they were disrupting the day-to-day activities of the institution, would get themselves into anned administrative seg cell, so what i have said and i can't stress this enough in my mind is that administrative segregation is used, except for the extremely dangerous, is used to allow an institution to run more efficiently. it suspends the problem at best, but multiplies it at its worst,
and so it does run more efficiently until you let that person out of there, and if you haven't addressed what got him in there to begin with, you've done nothing, and that's the problem with the mentally ill is what i struggle with and what we're trying to change in colorado and we're making great progress is how can you hold someone accountable if they don't understand the rule they broke to begin with. it's a no-win situation. >> thank you. senator cruz? >> thank you, mr. chairman. i'd like to thank each of the witnesses for coming here and for giving your testimony, and i'd also like to thank you for your advocacy and involvement with the justice system and advocating on behalf of those who are incarcerated and in particular mr. thibodeaux i'd like to thank you for your powerful and moving testimony. when i was a lawyer in private practice, i had the opportunity to represent john thompson, who
was another individual who was wrongfully convicted of murder in louisiana and sentenced to death, and he was subsequently exonerated, and it was a powerful experience personally having the opportunity to get to know mr. thompson and to represent him both in the court of appeals and the u.s. supreme court, and so let me echo the chairman's comment to apologize to you for the ordeal you endured. >> thank you, sir. >> and to thank you for having the courage to speak out about it because that cannot be easy to do. >> no. >> this issue is an issue that raises complicated issues because you've got conflicting interests. mr. raemisch, i'd like to ask in your judgment, with what frequency is solitary confinement used for relatively minor infractions? >> i can only at this point give you my impression, and my
impression is that it is incredibly overused in that area. i was talking during the break that really the process hasn't changed in over 100 years, and i try to think of what is still being done 100 years ago that's being done today that should be done, and i can't think of anything. and so when i look at that whole process, it, again, has become a tool to make a facility run more efficient, and that part of our mission we're failing because we're sending them out into the community worse than they came in, and i believe that's what lengthy periods of time in administrative segregation does, and, you know, if i may just say that when i hear some of the comments and i spoke at john jay university a few weeks ago on some issues in corrections, and sitting next to me was the
director of the texas corrections and florida -- or california corrections, some pretty big systems, and when i was asked a question by one of the audience members, i said, and i pointed to the others, welcome to the knuckle dragging thug club because the public perception is that's what we are, and if i can stress one thing, and i saw mr. samuels try to stress it and i would also is that at one time in my early law enforcement career i may have had that same impression, but i truly have to tell you that overall i have never seen a more dedicated professional group of men and women that risk their lives and they do it because they want to have a safer community and they put themselves at great risk to do that. that aside, there's, like any large bureaucracy, and we tend to be the largest in each state or close to it, i have 6,000 employees, you end up with problems. and it's how we react to those problems, and that's why right
now, one, i really appreciate what you've done by calling this hearing and, two, by having me participate because i can tell you that i don't know of any state in the nation that is not taking a very hard look at their administrative segregation policies. you have really brought it to the forefront. we all understand that as professionals that the movement is to -- this isn't the right way we should be treating people and we get that. what we do ask for is help in finding some solutions because there are some that are too dangerous that they can't be let out, but i also have to stress that's a small number. >> thank you, mr. raemisch. in your written testimony you stated that while the goal of many of your reforms is to decrease the number of offenders housed in administrative
segregation there will always need to be a prison within a prison. some will need to be secured to provide a secure environment for staff and offenders. it strikes me that a great many people would think that solitary confinement, particularly for an extended period of time, is not an appropriate punishment for relatively minor infractions but could well be a necessary tool for the most violent inmates who may pose a real threat to the safety of other inmates or of guards. each of the members of this panel has interacted with the criminal justice system in different capacities. miss kerman and mr. thibodeaux as inmates. mr. raemisch administering a correctional institution and system. mr. deroche ministering and helping bring home and
redemption to those incarcerated. mr. levin, studying the important justice issues. a question i would ask of all five of you is in your judgment based on the different experiences you've had, is there an appropriate role for solitary confinement? is there a need for it? and in what circumstances, if at all? i would welcome the views of all five witnesses. >> in my mind right now, yes, but in a limited sense, and that's because i have said that there are some diseases for which there are no cure right now, and that doesn't mean we don't keep trying to find the cure for the deeisease, but wha i've been told by my head clinicians is we have four to five in our system that if they
are let out of administrative segregation they will kill someone and they lay that responsibility on me and i get that, but i also understand that in all other areas that there's so much room for improvement. let's figure that group out a little while from now. let's take care of all the other numbers sitting in administrative segregation. >> i would first of all say we have to distinguish 24 hour, even 72 hour placement to defuse the situation from long term. in texas state prisons the average time in solitary is four years. so some served as long as 24 years. the other issue is in texas thousands are placed in solitary confinement solely for being suspected gang members upon initially entering prison having committed no disciplinary violatio
violations. i think it's critical and i question the extent to which we're doing that in texas. we have gone down in our total solitary confinement by over a thousand since we started bringing this up and there's an ongoing study in texas that the legislature approved last session but i think one of the issues you brought up, commissioner, i think that's very important is if you have got somebody in solitary who is 23 hours, no stimulation, having them be able to earn an hour more this month, okay, and programming and such so they can get out or gradually work their way towards more interaction. and so that's a great idea, and i think generally speaking as i have said the more you can create both positive incentives and graduated sanctions for inmates to address disciplinary issues, that's going to be able to make sure that the people in long term solitary confinement really should be those who have done harm to other inmates or staff or who have made statements indicating they intend to do that and, again, the short term can be used 24,
72 hours, to defuse, but even that we've heard about the teams, there's de-escalation training, just making sure there's not overcrowding and proper ratios. that can defuse a lot of tensions that lead to violence behind bars. >> there's a study, senator, that was done in minnesota for a faith-based dorm that we've run there for more than ten years. it was a ten-year study of every single inmate that went through that program, and it found there was a 0.8% recidivism rate, and that was every type of prisoner that went through there from the worst of the worst on through, and at the same time it found that there was no deviation between the technical violations of the people that went through that program and the general population in minnesota which had a 37% recidivism rate. in other words, human beings were still going to be human
beings even if they've moved away from a criminal lifestyle. so i do think that the director's comments about technical violations that we should take to heart that, boy, that's the same type of behavior i see in my kids. that's the same type of behavior i see in the workplace, and guess what? when we study it and we find a bunch of people moved away from criminal activity, they're still going to get it wrong on a technical side of how they get through a day. and so we need to take that seriously of what i started my statement with. if you want to change the culture on the outside in our cities and in our states, we've got to change the culture on the inside, and i am so impressed and encouraged to hear people going out, mr. chairman, and to the director, his willingness to see people who are doing it right because there are prisons where the population, the people in the prisons have made a decision they don't want to live in a bad downward spiraling culture, and when skilled ward
bes change that culture and they use very sparingly the use of segregation with people knowing that they can return back to a positive and improving culture when they straighten their act out, that's where it's best used. temporary, always with the invitation of working your way back because these corrections officers do have the responsibility the same as the noble people that serve in our fire departments, our police departments, they're supposed to be making it more safe for us as taxpayers when these people leave. they've got a difficult job, but we've got to empower them. we've got to train them, and we have to hold them accountable. we have to have oversight like we do in the other professions. when you're using this power, how is it being meted out and to what end, to what results, what outcomes, what metrics because we can do a far better job than they are, senator, but you're not going to be able to eliminate it if that's what
you're asking for. >> i don't believe that solitary confinement has a rehabilitative value and, therefore, i think that it should not be used other than for the most serious security concerns. what i have seen solitary confinement used most often is that disciplinary se g, not ad seg. it is true that women often do not go into ad seg though sometimes they do spend years and years in solitary confinement. there is not rehabilitative about being locked into a tiny box for 23 hours a day and so correctional systems should take very seriously their responsibility to rehabilitate and direct the tremendous amounts of taxpayer dollars that they consume towards that goal. >> in my 15 years in angola, it got to a point where we were all being taken to the yard one at a
time. when i got there, they were taking us one tier at a time, but an incident takes place and everyone suffers the consequences, not just the person who commits the incident, and that's a real bigamy ne min the system because it tells everyone else that it doesn't matter if i'm the model inmate because i'm going to get punished if someone else does something wrong anyway so why should i bother? solitary confinement is going to be used for the worst of the worst, as it should because safety is the biggest issue in prison because -- let's face it, we all agree that not everyone in prison is innocent. so if it's going to be used, know your limitations with it. you know, don't just lock someone up in a cell and forget about them. they're still a human being somewhere. they may have mental issues.
they may have emotional issues, but if you identify that and find a way around it, then you can deal with it in a humane way. it doesn't have to be, okay, just put them in a jumpsuit and shower shoes and lock him in the cell for 23 hours a day, you know. the one thing i wanted more of when i was in the cell is time out of the cell, you know. sadly, that's not the reality. but if you want to have solitary confinement, use it in the most limited capacity possible. >> thank you very much to all fi of you. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i want to thank all of you for coming and testifying and shedding light on this issue, and i particularly want to thank mr. thibodeaux because your
testimony was very -- you have been there, and as we say in hawaii mahalo for sharing your terrible experiences. i am especially concerned about reports that women are confined in solitary for reporting abuse including sexual abuse by the bureau of prisons staff, and especially as i have been working with senator jillen brand and other senators to address the issue of sexual assault in the military which is another institution where survivors of sexual assault can also be at the mercy of their supervisors and the chain of command due to the power dynamic and possible threats of retaliation that can exist in both of these environments. so i want to thank you, miss kerman, for your testimony, and i do note that mr. raemisch, you noted that 97% of our prisoners do get released into the community, so we really need to
pay attention to what's happening with them because as you say, mr. raemisch, they should come out better, not worse, than when they were in prison, and i think that's a sentiment that all of us would share. miss kerman, you heard director samuels' responses to my questions about what happens in the instance of the abuse of power by the bureau of prisons personnel, especially with regard to women and sexual abuse. now, having heard his responses, do you think that the bureau of prisons is doing enough to prevent and prosecute this kind of abuse of power by their staff? >> no. i believe that in every women's prison and jail that sexual abuse of women and girls by staff is a problem. in some places like otter creek,
kentucky, or tutwiler prison in alabama those abuses have been revealed to be systemic and very widespread and very sinister. what i observed during the time i was locked up was that a staff member who was under suspicion for sexually abusing prisoners would be removed from direct contact with the prisoner or prisoners that he was accused -- there were always men in the instances that i knew of, but they would still be there on the property and, of course, a person is innocent until proven guilty. i firmly believe that, but many, many aspects of the experience of incarceration have that silencing effect. the fact that your abuser may not, in fact, be far away from you, may be in view. he might be driving perimeter in
the facility in which you are 4e8d and so you might, in fact, see him all the time. the fear of solitary confinement and isolation, i can't overemphasize how powerful a disincentive that is. to go into the shu for 90 days is a really long time, and typically during the type of sis investigation that happens in the b.o.p., those investigations do not happen quickly. not only will you deal with the pain of isolation which is so well detailed in some of the written testimony which has been submitted to this committee, but on a very practical level, you will lose your housing, you will lose your prison job, you will lose a host of privileges obviously if you're held in isolation. all of these things conspire to really, really silence women and, of course, the concern about how much they can trust the people to whom they are supposed to report abuse is a
very serious consideration. >> so there are all kinds of disincentives in the environment where reporting of these kinds of abuse of power does not readily occur. do you have any thoughts on what we can do, and i'm not even talking about using the threat of being put into solitary as a way to control and hide this kind of behavior on the part of the staff. >> the best case scenario is for female prisoners and frankly for all prisoners to have increased access to the outside world. so the person you would be most inclined to trust in terms of seeking redress against abuse would not necessarily be someone inside of the institution in which you live. access to counsel is a tremendously important issue. the vast majority of prisoners in any system are indigent. 80% of criminal defendants are too poor to afford a lawyer, and so their access to counsel before they're locked up is poor
and their access to counsel while they're locked up is negligible. those are the things that would make the biggest difference and frankly those things would make the biggest difference in their rehabilitation as well not just their ability to access justice while incarcerated but also in their ability to be rehabilitated and to return safely to the community. the isolation of solitary confinement is just a small metaphor for the total isolation of incarceration, and when we put people to the margins, it makes it harder for them to return to the community. >> and i don't want to confine my questions on women and the deller toous effect, the negative effect, but for the rest of the panel miss kerman has said maybe one of the ways we can shed light on what is going on in the prison system, and i'm not saying this is symptomatic of everything that's going on. it's a tough problem, but would
you agree that providing more access to the outside world is one way that we can prevent some of the these abuses of power from occurring within the system? >> yes, and also an ombudsman. we had a scandal of sexual abuses in our juvenile facilities. one of the things we did was create an ombudsman's office which is not in the chain of command of any prison warden and actually reported directly to the commission, texas youth xhiths at that time whose members are appointed by the governor. so when you have an ombudsman who is not in the chain of command at a particular prison unit who these reports of abuses can go to and that individual can then independently look into them and certainly not every one of them is accurate but some of them are. when it's not kept totally within the unit, there's more accountability and independence in examining that. >> would the rest of you agree that's one of the ways that we could help? >> i would say very much so, and
we find that at prison fellowship the more that the prison lets folks in from the outside, the less problems that exist. it's an inverse relationship, and i think that that would continue, and i know the gravity for a state or federal officials, i saw it first hand when i was speaker of the house in michigan. we had a mental lly ill inmate found dead in his cell after being neglected for 72 hours and the cell was 110 degrees and i fought that as hard as i could but the gravity was we've got this, we've got an investigation, we've got people. it didn't get the satisfactory outcomes you would get with the justice system on the outside. we need independent voices. i think people need immediate access, not a month later, to a phone call about something that's happened in their life, senator? >> thank you, mr. chairman.
my time is up. >> senator, senator hir ron know. i want to thank everyone who has testified here today. we have over 130 statements that have been submitted for the record. i won't read the names of all the groups, but i thank them, each and every one. they will be made part of the record without objection. i asked my staff to look up a quote which was in the back of my mind. i got part of it right. the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. and that is why this hearing and this testimony is so important. we have our charge is to deal with issues involving the constitution, civil rights, and human rights, and i think all three of those elements come together in what we're talking about today. there's some things that strike me as more or less consensus. we don't want to release people
from segregation or solitary into society. the results are disastrous and they've been well documented. we don't want to see children in solitary confinement or segregation. perhaps in the most extreme cases maybe, but otherwise no. we know the vulnerability of women in incarceration and even more so in segregation and we certainly know the impact of mental illness on the behavior of prisoners and the problems that they run into once put in solitary confinement. if you get a chance to read mr. thibodeaux's testimony, do it, because he goes through in graphic detail elements of segregation or solitary confinement which should not be acceptable under any circumstances under any circumstances, where the food you're given is barely edible, where there's virtually no
medical care given to those who are in this situation, where -- i'm struck by the sentence where you said for 15 years you never saw the night sky or stars. it just is one of those gripping realizations when you think about what you've been through. the limited access you had to even keep your body fit. limited access you had to outside visitors, even as you said, you made a conscious choice that you didn't want your son to see you there during that circumstance. all of these things suggest treatment which goes beyond incarceration. it really crosses the line, mr. raemisch, i think in terms of what we should do to any human being, any fellow human being, and that's what this comes to. i thank you all for being here. this is not the last of these hearings until the problem is resolved, and i don't know that it will ever be totally resolved but we are moving on the right path. the first hearing started the conversation and i sense we are starting to move in the right
direction at many different levels. i commend the states and i think senator cruz would join me in saying many of the states have shown a real willingness to take this issue on even more than we have, and more than i have and i think it's important we learn from them in the process. we will leave the record open for about a week, if you get written questions, you might. it is rare, but it happens. if you would respond and return them, we would appreciate it very much. senator, thank you as well. this subcommittee stands adjourned.
>>. on the next washington journal. a discussion on gun control efforts this elks cycle on the state and federal level. our guest is chelsea parsons, centers for american progress crime and firearms policy director. then we hear from former utah governor and former hhs secretary michael leavitt. el talk about the response to ebola in this country and how federal agencies work with state agencies an hospital. washington journal is live every
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